Charles Mossop is ready to head out on a stroll with his new guide dog, Baker, named for a co-founder of the Canadian National institute for the Blind, Col. Edwin Baker. Baker is one of the first guide dogs to come out of the CNIB’s new guide dog program. — Adam Kveton Photo

Blind Parksville man learns to trust new four-legged partner

Canadian National Institute for the Blind introduces first group of guide dogs

Reaching a point where you trust anyone, much less a dog, with your life is a remarkably difficult accomplishment.

For Charles Mossop, a special level of trust grew exponentially while taking a walk during a training trip to Ottawa.

As he was about to enter a crosswalk, a bus entered his peripheral vision (the only vision he has left). His new guide dog, Baker, saw the danger and wouldn’t budge.

“Baker stopped dead, and I stopped as well,” he said.

“He’s been extremely well-trained.”

The Parksville resident is one of the six people across Canada who have been paired up with a guide dog out of a new Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) program.

Despite living with a degenerative form of sight loss since 18 years old, Baker is Mossop’s first guide dog.

“I feel very privileged to have a dog like that, and be entrusted with its care,” he said, adding that he feels the CNIB’s new program will make a big difference for Canadians with sight loss.

Though the CNIB first group of guide dogs was limited to six, spokeswoman Victoria Nolan said there are now 50 dogs going through the program. The CNIB hopes to match many more than that to owners every year, she said.

SIGHT LOSS

For most of his life, Mossop has known he’d be losing more and more of his vision.

He was diagnosed at the age of 19.

“Although I had noticed rather peculiar things happening to my eyesight when I was 18,” he said.

He has a particular form of macular degeneration that causes a progressive lost of central vision.

“It’s called Stargardt’s disease,” said Mossop. “I now only have a limited amount of peripheral vision left.”

Getting to this level of blindness isn’t always the case for those with Stargardt’s disease, but the condition doesn’t stop Mossop from being active.

After a career in post-secondary education and international development at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, Mossop said he’s failed at retirement, finding himself more busy than ever as a volunteer for the CNIB and as an international officer of the World Blind Union.

“That keeps me travelling,” he said.

Over the years, Mossop has relied on a mobility cane to get around, where the idea is to make contact with obstacles and other things with the cane to get a sense of what is where.

“With a dog of course, you don’t have to have that view of things because the dog is taking you around the object,” said Mossop. “The way I think of it really is that I navigate and the dog is the pilot.”

Mossop must of course know how to get where he’s going, though Baker will start to learn what Mossop wants and where he wants to go. Mossop can give commands like right and left, while Baker deals with the details of getting around things.

When Mossop approaches a crosswalk, he can ask Baker to direct him to the crosswalk button, but Mossop must decide when it’s safe to cross, based on his limited vision, what he can hear and his other senses.

Baker, however, can choose not to move if he sees that it’s dangerous.

To get used to this knew way of getting around the world, Mossop has had many training sessions with the CNIB, both at their headquarters in Ottawa and closer to home.

“It’s really quite a remarkable experience to go through this training and find that you have a brilliantly trained partner who is actually capable of looking out for you and steering you around objects and all that sort of thing,” said Mossop.

Perhaps the biggest change Baker is making to Mossop’s mobility comes in the dark.

“One of the features of Stargardt’s disease is the almost complete loss of night vision. Can’t see a thing at night,” said Mossop. “If there are lights, they just glare. They don’t light anything up for me.”

But one of the first things he did with a guide dog back in September during a trial for the program, was a night walk.

“I could be guided and walk in conditions of low light or darkness, when really I have almost no vision at all, and the idea that I would now be able to do that, if I needed to, independently, was really quite striking,” said Mossop.

NEW PROGRAM

He anticipates the CNIB’s guide dog program will have an important effect on Canada’s blind and partially sighted people, many of whom can’t find employment because of their lack of eyesight.

While there are other guide dog programs available, more and more of those also train dogs for people with PTSD or with other trauma. All are worthwhile causes, but it means there are longer and longer wait times for guide dogs.

That’s what the CNIB found as well.

With the foundation recently celebrating its first 100 years, research into adjusting focus found that significant wait times were a barrier for people.

“We just assumed that people get their guide dogs, they have different choices, some people get them in Canada, some people get them in the States, but we thought everything was running smoothly,” said Nolan. “And then when we did the research, and there is a significant waiting list for these schools. So there’s definitely room for more guide dog schools in Canada.”

The CNIB’s program began 18 months ago, with the dogs first being sourced from a particular breeder in Australia who specializes in producing service dogs.

For the first year, the dogs stay with a family who volunteers to raise the dogs and teach them basic obedience skills. The dogs are also exposed to a variety of environments, as they must be calm and able to focus no matter where they go.

Then the dogs are trained to be guide dogs for about six months.

Baker is now 23 months old, and though he acts like a normal, friendly puppy indoors, once his harness is on, he’s all business, said Mossop.

The CNIB’s program is free for the people who are paired up with the dogs, said Nolan, with all expenses being paid for through donations to the CNIB.

Though these first six dogs have been matched with owners from Nova Scotia to B.C., applications for a guide dog will be open in the new year. Long-term, Nolan said the CNIB hopes to match 100 people with guide dogs every year.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Warm ‘blob’ could be behind mass starvation of North Pacific seabirds: Study

Unprecedented death toll raises red flag for North American marine ecosystems

Power lines cut as thieves strike Parksville veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

Nanaimo mom will celebrate 40th in style after $500,000 lotto win

Crystal Giesbrecht matches all four numbers on BC/49 Extra

Vancouver Island woman files sexual harassment suit against former Mountie

Former RCMP officer Brian Mathew Burkett is also being sued by two other women for sexual harassment

Vancouver Island lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

VIDEO: Soldiers trade rifles for snow shovels to help dig out St. John’s

A state of emergency is set to extend into a fifth day

Saanich Police ask for help locating missing high-risk youth

Robyn Coker-Steel has not been in contact with anyone from her home since Dec. 27

Former Sidney mayor calls on local MLA Adam Olsen to resign over ferry blockade

Olsen has rejected the demand, calling Price’s language divisive and responsible for polarization

Six boat wrecks wash up on Cadboro Bay beaches over the weekend

Dead Boat Society working with Oak Bay, Saanich to clear derelict boats

Tech consortium invests $25 million into 14 research projects, two at UVic

Investments come with goal of developing, implement technologies created by Canadians

Vic High alumni named Victoria’s new Youth Poet Laureate

Neko Smart, the founder and coach of the Vic High slam poetry team, will serve a one-year term

Photographer captures Port Alberni personalities in black and white portraits

Meet John Douglas, Courtney Naesgaard in double until Feb. 8 at Rollin Art Centre

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Most Read